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It’s Not What You Think: Introduction To Meditation

I’m really excited about the next couple of weeks of “Wellness Wednesday,” because we’re going to kick over some long-established, wrong ideas. In doing so, I believe we’re going to open you up to good health in a way you might never have expected.

One of the guiding principles of my practice is that wellness is multi-faceted, and your body, mind, and spirit are all interwoven. Unwellness in any part diminishes the wellness of all the other parts. That’s why I dedicate so many of my “Wellness Wednesday” articles to aspects of wellness that don’t seem to relate directly to spinal alignment, even though I am licensed as a chiropractor.

It’s all related.

With that as our starting point, it’s time to kick over some sacred cows — by that I mean some common misconceptions that people seem to cling to.

This week’s cow is meditation.

Understanding Meditation

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I mention meditation?

If you are like most people, you probably envisioned some smiling yoga teacher sitting in the “lotus” position with their palms up, eyes rolled back, eyelids closed, and humming “oooooommmmm.”

We see it portrayed that way in movies and on TV. It’s kind of a funny stereotype people harbor. That is one form of Asian meditation, and there is a place for it, but it is only one form.

Even as recently as 30 years ago, most Americans were skeptical—even a little fearful—of meditation. There was a lot of controversy around how it worked. It just seemed “spooky.” To people raised in Judeo-Christian traditions, meditation felt like a gateway to the occult. Over time, as meditation has become more mainstream, and we have developed a better understanding of it, some of those fears have been allayed.

Wait…Meditation Is In The Bible?

Of course, many Christians are shocked to find that the Bible promotes meditation. Joshua 1:8, particularly in the King James Version, is a very popular verse that mentions it:

“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”

Psalm 119 mentions meditation five times!

In fact, the first reference to what we would call “meditation” is in Genesis 4, where some of the children of Adam and Eve begin a form of worship by repeating the names of God.

Now, before you Google local shamans, let’s unpack the difference between transcendental meditation and the forms of meditation promoted in the Bible. There are some differences, and most of them have to do with the object of your focus. Different church denominations have specific teachings about transcendental meditation, and I encourage you to educate yourself about those issues.

The Biology Of Meditation

For our purposes here, we don’t need to get into the mechanics of meditation. We will be digging more deeply into that side of it as we approach the February Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner (I have a couple of special guests coming that I’m really excited about). But there are physiological benefits to meditation that I want to share with you.

What medical research has been revealing over the last 20 years is that the gut and brain are linked more closely than we previously understood. Part of that communication is the Vagus nerve, which is essentially a high-speed data line between the two organs. Some medical specialties have gone so far to refer to the gut as the “second brain.”

This isn’t surprising when you think about it.

Stress In The Mind Goes Straight To The Gut

How do you experience stress? You start with anxious thoughts, and they stir up anxious feelings in your gut, right? You might have a stomach ache, your heart might start pounding, or you might get “butterflies” in your stomach. When you think troubling thoughts, your brain starts a cascade of chemical signals that flow down through your nervous system and trigger the organs of your gut to begin preparing for “fight” or “flight” responses. It’s instinctual. You don’t have to make it happen; in fact, it takes training to make yourself overrule your natural reactions.

When I say the word “ulcer,” what’s the first thought that comes to mind? You might think of a stressed-out business owner or a fearful parent. We associate ulcers with stress. Conventional medical wisdom suggests that ulcers are the result of highly acidic food choices. While there is some truth to that, more research is demonstrating that stress is the leading cause and aggravator of a condition we call “leaky gut.”

In short, whatever we worry about in our heads goes straight to our guts.

As we’ve discussed here before, the unmanaged flow of stress hormones is an important cause of heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and even cancer. Stress can kill you if you don’t deal with it.

So, what do you do to combat stress?

Combating Stress

There are innumerable ways humans deal with stress, and humans have been discovering new ones every day since the dawn of time:

  • Entertainment
  • Prescription sedatives
  • Illegal drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Sex
  • Suicide
  • Delegating tasks
  • Asking for help
  • Meditation
  • Journalling
  • Escapism (avoiding or ignoring a problem by getting involved in some consuming activity)
  • Playing games/sports
  • Listening to music
  • Long walks
  • Silence
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Laughing
  • Exercise
  • Prayer/Worship
  • Counseling

I bet you can think of others.

Is It Helpful?

As you look over this list, you probably observe that some of these behaviors have very beneficial side effects, while others have very destructive side effects. Some of them help to solve your stress-causing problems, while others make them worse.

For instance, I think we can agree that escapism and entertainment don’t do anything to make your problems go away permanently, and illegal drugs (and even some prescription drugs), alcohol, and sex can exacerbate your problems. Not only is the problem still there in the morning, you have a hangover to work through, too.

But there are behaviors listed here that can contribute to a solution:

  • If your stress is related to your workload, delegating tasks is a powerful way to reduce stress.
  • People who believe in the power of prayer often describe how getting God involved in their situations gives them a sense of peace, even if He doesn’t necessarily arrange circumstances the way they might have wanted.
  • Laughing can improve your mood enough to change how you view the problem, and sometimes that’s all you need to discover a solution.
  • Spending time with loved ones may pass as a form of escapism, but if you have a wise friend you trust your problems with, that person might be able to bring a new perspective into your situation. The same is true for meeting with a counselor. Often, the thing that stresses us out is just our overblown imagination. It’s like the child in a cartoon who sees a scary shape silhouetted in the dark, and turns on the light only to find out it was a tree outside the window. Bringing in someone who sees the situation from a different angle can make all the difference when we are feeling afraid.
  • Sports and exercise are also types of activity that can be mistaken for escapism, but I have coached hundreds of professionals, executives, and pastors to use their exercise routine as a way to cleanse the body of harmful overloads of neurotoxins like adrenaline. You can also use that time to think over the situation, listen to audiobooks, or meditate on Scripture.

And that brings us back to meditation.

Using Meditation To Facilitate Healing

God gave you a powerful mind with the ability to process tons of information. He gave you the ability to discern between emotions, opinions, and facts. He also gave you His written instruction manual, that has unchanging wisdom for every possible scenario in life. If you know how to put it all together and make good decisions, that’s a winning combination for dealing with stressful situations.

If you want to dry out your bathtub, turn off the water. It’s very difficult to improve a situation when the problem is still in place. If you want to get better faster, turn off the stress. More often than not, stress is causing or exacerbating the problems that are stressing you out. Through meditating and talking to wise people, you can deal with the root issues. That will give your body room to rebuild and heal.

Over the next few weeks, we will get more specific with tips for stress management, but I wanted to start here with a simple overview and culminate on February 8th with some effective strategies for using different forms of meditation to put your mind and body in a restful state.

I hope you’ll make plans to join us that night for the February Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner at my office behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road in Naples. My guests will be Patti and Marty Hulsebos of Naples Transcendental Meditation. They will share more detail about what meditation is and how it can benefit your health in some very specific ways.

Each dinner has been a little bigger than the one before it, so don’t wait to RSVP on our Facebook page. Be sure to follow that page and be a part of the conversation in the comments.

Want to learn more before you arrive? Continue on to parts 2, 3, and 4 by clicking here.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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